Disney, Capitalism, and Beyoncé’s Black Is King

In the midst of protest and pandemic, how should we engage with Beyoncé and Disney’s Black Is King?

Design by Shari Betty

The Black Atlantic, Picasso, and cultural appropriation discourses

Boluwatife Akinro and Joshua Segun-Lean tackle earlier Disney/Beyoncé cultural productions in “Beyoncé and the Heart of Darkness”. They argue against the proliferation of Americocentric Wakanda/Marvel like cultural appropriation of Africa based on a U.S. centric Black perspective. The following is the most important statement in Akinro and Segun-Lean’s piece: “Disney’s hegemony in the film industry, and the profit oriented impetus behind the production, cast doubt as to whether this is really an exercise of continental empowerment.” But the importance of this statement becomes muffled within more pressing articulations of “western” Black America’s simultaneous cultural appropriation of Africa through “Afrocentric essentialism” and willful omission of continental Africa with the authors’ interrogation of Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic. With the article depicting Gilroy’s work as representative of Black intellectual perspectives in the U.S. and western hemisphere, it should be noted that this Black Atlantic omits not only continental Africa, but Latin America, the non-English speaking Caribbean, Central America, and the circum-Caribbean as well.

Beyoncé as the Messenger

Personally, I do not think Beyoncé is an appropriate messenger in the appeal for Pan African and diasporic cultural connection. Even with a cadre of richly melanated dancers, artists, creators and actors (many from the continent) — and “BROWN SKIN GIRL" as a featured song — the mere presence of Beyoncé brings about issues of colorism that Black people within the US and across the western hemisphere have not truly contended with at the most basic levels. In terms of the African continent and other deeply melanated spaces across the Indian and Pacific oceans, problems of skin bleaching and pigmentocracies are codified into colonial (now neocolonial) structures of worth and belonging within many of these societies.

Black Panther Party founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, Wikimedia Commons
San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, https://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Black-Panthers-Sacramento-BPP-women-singing-Free-Huey-Rally-by-Pirkle-Jones.jpg

Mama Africa dismantling white supremacy

Beyoncé may not be ready to do the revolutionary work of luminaries such as Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeba, South African singer, Pan Africanist and anti-apartheid activist. True revolutionary work is costly.

Rob MieremetNationaal Archief Grand Gala du Disque Populaire in Congrescentrum. Miriam Makeba, March 1969

#BlackLivesMatter vs. The Walt Disney Company

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality, in Nairobi, Kenya June 8, 2020. Photo: Khalil Senosi — https://www.leftvoice.org/africa-declares-black-lives-matter

Lisa Betty is a PhD Candidate in History and Course Instructor at Fordham University.

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